Note: I was an arts columnist with the Limerick Leader newspaper, publishing interviews, reviews and features for a general audience. This article was originally published on 03/12/2015.

In 2012, the United States Geographical Survey described the word “river” as a generic term. A bit harsh, really. But in all honesty, I’ve never seen a Hollywood movie about a river. And for good reason, geography can be a dull science; concerning itself with the countless minor erosions which wear down mountains into hills, cause cliffs to crumble, and, with enough of a slow, relentless gushing of water, grind the earth down into a definitive pathway – also known as a river.

Rivers can be boring things, admittedly. Yet, this used to not always be the case – there’s a reason why most major cities surround rivers. Before “tweeting a selfie” was a sentence that made sense (and a considerable time before that), rivers were the most important form of support for life – from a source of drinking water, to agriculture and even defence – but today, we’re more likely to discuss how modern industrial life is poisoning them.

So, when the event Putting The River Back In Limerick took place on 28 Nov, in the Shannon Rowing Club, it was this sort of decline of the importance of river which was on people’s minds. Stories of litter and anti-social behaviour were shared. There was calls for more bins and policing of quieter areas. Criticisms of poor planning in the past and the potential failures of future project were heard. Yet, most of the conversations centred on the positive; memories of learning to swim during childhood, or the more recent on-going activities of water sports and work. Similarly, there was a huge list of active community groups which came up – from bird watching to star gazing and much, much more. In short, the river is busy.

The aim and the format of the event would be familiar to anyone who’s been to previous Limerick 2020 events, such as the Citizen Brainstorming event; a group of local and interested citizens (as few experts or moderators as needed) sitting around a table talking and laughing, all over a cup of tea. Activism and engaged citizenship are ideas we’ll hear discussed more and more as we lead up the election – and the words themselves invite the image of protest placards, letter writing campaigns, and talking heads on TV talk shows, it was certainly refreshing to experience activism and citizenship join up with community in such a genuine manner.

This was one of many on-going conversations about Limerick – just like in last week’s column, when I interviewed the artist Mark Dion about his current exhibition at Ormston House, which takes the old story of the Salmon of Knowledge and uses this to ask questions about today. As the artist himself said, the last thing you would do if you had knowledge would be to undermine your resources. The exhibition is a showcase of an American artist who has made history, folklore and storytelling his speciality – similar to the event Putting The River Back In Limerick, both are examples of a continued, persistent reflection on the identity of Limerick as a place and a community.

Just like any conversation it has its own rhythm; cautious pause and eruptions of laughter, knowing nods and comfortable silences. Into the coming months, as we lead up to the next and final stage of the bid for the European Capital of Culture in 2020, there will be the same rush of excitement as was felt before – across all of Limerick, we’re really getting into the flow.

  • Chris Hayes is an Irish artist and art critic in London, with a background in technology and alternative spaces. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


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